City Council approves Lightfoot’s $16.4 billion budget by 32-18 vote

The vote was closer than many expected and tighter than last year’s 35-15 cakewalk, which included a $76.5 million increase in the city’s property tax levy.

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The Chicago City Council convened at City Hall on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022.

The Chicago City Council convened at City Hall on Monday for a scheduled vote on the city’s 2023 budget.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A divided City Council on Monday handed Mayor Lori Lightfoot the $16.4 billion 2023 budget that will serve as her reelection platform amid complaints that it shortchanges public safety, climate change and her own progressive promises.

Lightfoot cut in half a property tax increase tied to the rate of inflation, then eliminated that $42.7 million increase altogether to pave the way for the easiest budget vote of a four-year term marred by the pandemic and civil unrest.

It didn’t quite turn out that way. The vote was a closer-than-expected 32-18 on both the budget itself and the revenue ordinance that supports the annual spending plan. The city’s annual property tax levy passed by an even closer vote of 29-21.

After the vote, Lightfoot rose from the rostrum to deliver a nearly 30-minute, campaign-style speech, mirroring last month’s budget address, about the benefits of her annual spending plan.

At a celebratory news conference that followed the meeting, Lightfoot said she was “extraordinarily happy with” her margin of victory.

“I have been saying to you and others that I don’t buy votes. I manage to 26, which is a majority. Anything over 26, to me, is gravy,” she said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Monday, Nov. 7, 2022.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot presided at Monday’s Chicago City Council, where she succeeded in getting her 2023 budget passed.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

As soon as the two-hour debate began, the opposition became immediately clear.

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) took Lightfoot to task for spending only a fraction of the federal money appropriated for an array of social programs in last year’s budget.

Even retiring Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) expressed outrage that just $5 million of the $85 million in violence prevention funds included in the mayor’s 2022 budget has been spent.

“It’s inexcusable that we did not spend more of that money. We have to put that money on the ground in communities. We have to do it with a sense of urgency. We don’t have the luxury to wait and use this money glacially over the next five-to-ten years,” Osterman said.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), Lightfoot’s former City Council floor leader, voted for the budget, but said he “longs for the day” a more independent Council proposes its own budget and negotiates with the mayor to reach a compromise version.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) discusses the city’s 2023 budget during a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall on Nov. 7, 2022.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) urged his Chicago City Council colleagues to become more independent.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A sense of independence is brewing in a City Council in transition, Villegas told colleagues. “Don’t be afraid to embrace it. Stand up.”

It’s no real surprise the roll call was closer than last year’s 35-15 cakewalk, which included a $76.5 million increase in the city’s property tax levy. It has at least something to do with next year’s mayoral election. Three veteran alderpersons — Sophia King (4th), Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Ray Lopez (15th) — are giving up their seats to run for mayor.

They may soon be joined by retiring Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who declared his opposition to the budget, in part, by noting the Town Hall police district in his ward has 285 police officers — down from 415 when Rahm Emanuel was mayor.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) discusses the city’s 2023 budget during a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Monday morning, Nov. 7, 2022.

Ald. Tom Tunney voted against the city’s 2023 budget, citing residents’ concerns over violent crime. “People are disgusted about their inability to walk their dog and go out at night,” he said at Monday’s City Council meeting.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“My residents don’t feel safe. [Police] morale is at an all-time low. People do not go out at night anymore. What kind of city are we living in? ... I’m very worried about the direction of our city and the leadership of our police department,” Tunney said Monday.

“We are definitely at a crisis. It’s not a money crisis. It’s a lack of leadership. We have to do better to keep people safe. They don’t feel it. ... I demand accountability for residents that I serve, and they feel shortchanged, to say the least. People are disgusted about their inability to walk their dog and go out at night.”

Progressive alderpersons who helped the mayor pass last year’s budget after she beefed up social programs are now lining up behind mayoral challenger Brandon Johnson. Hispanics are preparing to support U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., who showed up at City Hall Monday to record a video.

Lightfoot took it in stride when asked about Garcia, who gave her a key endorsement in 2019.

“Today is a day for me to celebrate passage of our budget, because what it shows is the mayor and the City Council, working together, can do great things for our city,” she said. “The politics will take care of themselves.”

But, opposition to the mayor’s budget went much deeper than mayoral politics.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) stands clad in a dark blue suit while speaking at a Chicago City Council meeting.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) complained about crime on the CTA before the Chicago City Council voted on the 2023 budget at Monday’s meeting.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

With violent crime on voters’ minds, downtown alderpersons Brian Hopkins (2nd) and Brendan Reilly (42nd) and Southwest Side Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) said they firmly believe Lightfoot’s budget does not do nearly enough to hire new police officers and stop the mass exodus of veteran officers — 949 retirements through Sept. 30 this year.

During Monday’s debate, Reilly complained downtown police districts have 400 fewer officers than they did in 2019. and he simply could not support the mayor’s proposal to triple — to $30 million — funding for Chicago Police CTA Detail Fund.

“What do we have to show for this CTA investment? A system plagued by service disruptions, delay, crime and filth. Ridership scared to death to use our train system after rush hour and many more scared to use it during rush hour,” he said.

“Drug use, violence, sexual assault, strong-arm robberies. They’re out of control, and they’ve become the norm. But please vote for a budget to subsidize this dumpster fire? I won’t do it.”

Lightfoot branded Reilly’s remarks “incredibly reckless and irresponsible,” saying the CTA was “making progress” on violent crime but must do more.

“Sending out rider alerts is not good enough. ... But I’m gonna deal in facts and not hysteria and hyperbole,” she said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Monday morning, Nov. 7, 2022.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall Monday morning.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Six months ago, O’Shea proposed hiring and retention incentives — including signing bonuses, downpayment and mortgage loan assistance — to stop the police officer exodus. The ordinance has gone nowhere.

The $64 million increase Lightfoot has proposed for the Chicago Police Department — for a total budget of $1.94 billion — includes 35 civilian jobs, but no increase in rank-and-file officers. The 35 civilians will be assigned to the Office of Constitutional Policing charged with consent decree compliance and administering the training needed to get out from under federal court oversight.

Climate debate heating up

Policing was not the only beef about the mayor’s budget. So was Lightfoot’s failure to honor her 2019 campaign promise to resurrect the Department of Environment disbanded by Emanuel.

Instead, the mayor created an Office of Climate and Environmental Equity with 10 employees, run by a director confirmed by the City Council. (Lightfoot initially proposed a six-person office under her control.)

Alderpersons demanding more urgent action to combat climate change aren’t satisfied.

Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) noted her North Side ward has lost “1 to 2 feet of land with every winter storm from lakefront erosion and high water levels” in Lake Michigan. She declared she was voting against the budget because “it does some great things. But we could have done more. We could have done better — and we should.”

Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) discusses the city’s 2023 budget during a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall on Nov. 7, 2022.

Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) voted against the 2023 Chicago city budget, explaining before the City Council voted on Monday that the budget didn’t do enough for the environment.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Budget Director Susie Park has maintained a “lot of work” must be done to “build out a robust” Department of Environment and pull together regulatory authority dispersed to other departments in 2011.

Lightfoot agreed.

“We have to govern responsibly. We cannot ever just do the politically expedient thing to win votes on a budget. I won’t ever do that,” Lightfoot told reporters.

“I’m not gonna support people who say, ‘Just throw a name on it. Put some vacancies there. And let’s call it a day and then, you get my vote.’ Frankly, that’s offensive to me.”

Thousands march from Grant Park to Federal Plaza in Chicago as part of the Chicago Youth Climate Strike on Sept. 20, 2019.

Thousands march from Grant Park to Federal Plaza in Chicago as part of the Chicago Youth Climate Strike on Sept. 20, 2019.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) dismissed Lightfoot’s proposed environmental compromise as a joke. He noted that with 10 staffers, Chicago will have “less people to tackle the issue of the environment than we do to send out press releases.”

Ramirez-Rosa, Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd) also accused the mayor of failing to honor her campaign promises to reopen mental health clinics and raise the real estate transfer tax on high-end home sales to create a dedicated source of funding to reduce homelessness and ease the affordable housing crisis.

Members of the “Bring Home Chicago” Coalition banged on the glass in the third-floor gallery in an attempt to disrupt Monday’s debate.

“We’re asking for things that are basic. We’re asking for things that are done in other cities. We are not asking for too much,” Rodriguez Sanchez said Monday.

Ald. Rossana Rodríguez Sanchez (33rd) discusses the city’s 2023 budget during a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Monday morning, Nov. 7, 2022.

Ald. Rossana Rodríguez Sanchez (33rd) was among those Chicago City Council members unhappy with some things that are not in the 2023 city budget. “We’re asking for things that are basic,” she said.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Spending boosted by federal funds

With $152.4 million in federal coronavirus relief set aside to replace revenue lost to the pandemic, the mayor’s budget continues an unprecedented two-year spending spree, with, among other things:

• $242 million to “prepay” future pension obligations instead of making what the mayor has called the “minimum monthly payment” on Chicago’s “pension credit card” while paying “compounded interest.”

• $200 million to prevent homelessness, $155 million for affordable housing and $3 million to launch a “Tiny Homes initiative.”

• $5 million to support immigrants brought to Chicago from Texas and other border states and $3 million for “reproductive services” tied to the influx of women coming to Chicago for abortions outlawed in their home states.

• $10 million to improve technology infrastructure.

• More fine and fee reforms, this time helping businesses and individuals saddled with administrative hearing debt.

• Pay raises of 20.5% — $161,016 — for the city clerk and treasurer, followed by annual increases capped at 5% or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.

Lightfoot has also proposed a similar annual increase for the mayor, with an identical 5% cap. It would raise the annual salary by $10,810, to $227,020. That increase would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2024.

Workers from the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation clear out a homeless encampment near South Desplaines Street and West Roosevelt Road in February 2020.

Workers from the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation clear out a homeless encampment near South Desplaines Street and West Roosevelt Road in February 2020. The 2023 city budget includes $200 million in spending to prevent homelessness.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

One-time revenue boosts some spending

Despite the embarrassment of riches, there are warning signs for Lightfoot or her successor.

The budget includes a $395 million tax-increment-financing surplus, the largest in Chicago history and $124 million larger than last year’s TIF surplus. That one-time revenue includes $218.4 million for Chicago Public Schools and $98.3 million for the city’s corporate fund.

Lightfoot is also carrying over $220 million from this year’s budget surplus — compared to just $50 million a year ago — and counting it as revenue in 2023.

The City Council also signed off on: $1.85 billion in general obligation bonds to bankroll two more years of Lightfoot’s massive capital plan; a $336 million federal loan to replace lead service lines; extending $250 million in existing authority to finance capital improvement projects at Midway Airport and a new “line of credit as a mode of interim financing” and a $50 million line of credit to cover “unanticipated capital needs” at the new car rental facility at O’Hare Airport.

Monday’s earlier-than-expected budget vote cleared the decks for the mayor to focus on her reelection bid after celebrating — as she has after past budget victories — with steak, a Scotch and a cigar.

The Council will now turn its attention to her plan to create new transit tax increment financing to bankroll $950 million of the $3.6 billion cost of extending the CTA’s Red Line from 95th Street to 130th.

That starts Thursday, when embattled CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. appears before a City Council Transportation Committee whose invitations he has ignored for months.

Lightfoot is pushing for a final City Council vote on her TIF plan by Dec. 31 to meet the requirement for federal matching funds.


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